Background: Fluorescence-guided precision cancer surgery may improve survival and minimize patient morbidity. Efficient development of promising interventions is however hindered by a lack of common methodology. This methodology review aimed to synthesize descriptions of technique, governance processes, surgical learning and outcome reporting in studies of fluorescence-guided cancer surgery to provide guidance for the harmonized design of future studies.

Methods: A systematic search of MEDLINE, EMBASE and CENTRAL databases from 2016-2020 identified studies of all designs describing the use of fluorescence in cancer surgery. Dual screening and data extraction was conducted by two independent teams.

Results: Of 13,108 screened articles, 426 full text articles were included. The number of publications per year increased from 66 in 2016 to 115 in 2020. Indocyanine green was the most commonly used fluorescence agent (391, 91.8%). The most common reported purpose of fluorescence guided surgery was for lymph node mapping (195, 5%) and non-specific tumour visualization (94, 2%). Reporting about surgical learning and governance processes incomplete. A total of 2,577 verbatim outcomes were identified, with the commonly reported outcome lymph node detection (796, 30%). Measures of recurrence (32, 1.2%), change in operative plan (23, 0.9%), health economics (2, 0.1%), learning curve (2, 0.1%) and quality of life (2, 0.1%) were rarely reported.

Conclusion: There was evidence of methodological heterogeneity that may hinder efficient evaluation of fluorescence surgery. Harmonization of the design of future studies may streamline innovation.

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